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Bible: What Does Numbers 9-11 Teach Us About Divine and Human Leadership?
Passover Regulation; Cloud by Day, Fire by Night
Numbers 1-8 takes place about one month after the events of chapter nine (v. 1; cf. Num. 1:1).
Yahweh reminds Moses to make sure Israel celebrates the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month beginning at twilight; Moses and Israel obey His command in the Wilderness of Sinai (vv. 2-5).
On this occasion some men, defiled by a corpse, approach Moses and ask why he does not allow them to celebrate the feast (vv. 6-7).
When Israel’s leader inquires of Yahweh about the situation, the LORD grants the men permission; they may observe the Passover, but must celebrate it a month later and follow the same ordinances (vv. 8-12).
Clean Israelites, or those not on a journey who refuse to keep the Passover, must “be cut off from among the people” and bear their sin (v. 13).
Strangers must obey all the same ordinances as Israelites (v. 14).
Moses depicts the presence of Yahweh with Israel as a cloud covering the tent of the Testimony by day and as the appearance of fire by night (vv. 15-16; cf. Exo. 40:33, 34).
The Cloud guides the people on their journeys through the desert.
When it rises up from the tabernacle, Israel travels; when it settles down, the people pitch their tents and stay encamped for as long as the cloud remains in its place (vv. 17-19).
Moses repeatedly mentions that no matter how long the encampments last—overnight, two days, a month, or a year—Israel obeys the LORD’s commands to stay and to go every time (vv. 20-23).
The Blowing of Silver Trumpets
Three Trumpet Signals
God directs Moses to make two silver trumpets to call the assembly and to direct camp movements (vv. 1-2).
When the priests sound both trumpets, all Israel assembles; when only one blows, the leaders alone come to Moses (vv. 3-4, 8).
Sounding the “advance” trumpet the first time sets the eastern tribes into motion (v. 5); the second sounding signals the southern camps to depart (v. 6).
These “soundings” differ from the signal to assemble; the priests do not blow both together (v. 7).
A third type of signal is the alarm; it sounds when Israel goes to war (v. 9).
Priests also blow trumpets as a memorial during Israel’s appointed feasts (v. 10).
Jethro, Priest of Midian, with Moses and Family
Moses and Jethro
About a month after the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second year out of Egypt, Israel leaves camp for the first time, traveling from Sinai to the Wilderness of Paran under the Cloud’s guidance (vv. 11-13).
Verses 14-28 list the order in which the camps set out with their leaders.
Those on the east go first (vv. 14-16); then those by the tabernacle (v. 17); then the southern tribes (vv. 18-20); the Kohathites (v. 21); the west (vv. 22-24); and finally the north leave (vv. 25-27).
A dialogue now occurs between Moses and his father-in-law Reuel (Jethro).
Moses desires that Jethro come dwell with Israel, but the latter refuses, wanting to be with his own people (vv. 29-30; cf. Jud. 4:11).
Apparently, Moses convinces him to go at least part of the way through the desert and be his “eyes” (guide) [vv. 31-32].
The Cloud leads Israel for three days to find a resting place (vv. 33-34).
Moses prays that the LORD might protect them from their enemies as they journey (v. 35), and dwell with them as they rest (v. 36).
The Manna Issue
Tired of Manna
As they journey, some of the people complain about their circumstances; perhaps they, as well as the “mixed multitude,” longed for the fresh foods of Egypt (v. 1a; cf. vv. 4-5).
This attitude displeases the LORD, who sends a “burning” on the camp’s outskirts (v. 1b, 3).
[Why did only the “outskirts” of the camp receive this punishment/chastening?]
Only through Moses’ intercession does the judgment cease (v. 2).
Tired of eating heavenly manna—the substance that fell on the dew every night (v. 9)—the “mixed multitude” among Israel confesses their cravings for fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic—all free in Egypt! (vv. 6-8).
Their weeping angers the LORD and Moses (v. 10). Yet Moses seems angrier against God because he believes that He has unjustly burdened him with the lot (vv. 11-12).
After asking the LORD how he is going to feed the multitude and bear with their complaints (vv. 13-14), Moses finally confesses that he prefers that the LORD kill him rather than make him suffer this ill-treatment (v. 15).
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Eldad, Medad, and Joshua
Apparently, this petition is what the LORD was waiting for, because He commands Moses to assemble seventy elders at the tabernacle so that He may endow them with the Spirit (vv. 16-17).
[Before Moses received the ten words from Yahweh, Jethro had counseled Moses to surround himself with seventy elders to help him with the ministry (see Exodus 18).
Moses had seemingly forgotten about these men, and again tried to handle the whole operation by himself.
Yahweh “put His Spirit upon” the seventy, enabling them to help Moses bear the burdens of leadership].
As discipline for despising Him, the LORD promises Israel that they will have meat not only on the morrow but also for a whole month, so much so that they would become sick of it (vv. 18-20).
Not yet knowing the power of God, Moses asks where Israel will find so much meat and fish to feed millions for a month (vv. 21-22).
The LORD assures him that He will perform His word (v. 23).
Yahweh places the Spirit upon the seventy elders as they assemble around the tabernacle where they all prophesy (vv. 24-25).
[Moses carefully points out that this prophesying phenomenon is a one-time event.
The temporary ability apparently manifested to the people that God had indeed endued them with His Spirit to help Moses.
The text does not indicate the subject of their “prophesying”].
For some reason two elders—Eldad and Medad—stay in the camp, yet God endues them also with the Spirit and the ability to prophesy (v. 26).
Fearful of a power struggle, young Joshua pleads for Moses to stop them from gathering a following (vv. 27-28).
The seasoned leader, confident of his role, dismisses Joshua’s anxiety and expresses his wish that all Israel had the Spirit upon them.
[Although Church-age believers are not all prophets, God has endowed them with the indwelling Spirit through Whom they have the authority to proclaim the gospel.]
The Cause of Israel's Plague
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Plague in Israel
In fulfillment of His promise to feed Israel meat, the LORD brings a multitude of quail from the sea (v. 31), and the people spend two days gathering all of the birds (v. 32).
However, before they can greedily consume this flesh, God strikes them with a severe judgment (vv. 33-34).
[Apparently, this “yielding to craving” caused the great outpouring of wrath/chastening; perhaps they did not even pause to acknowledge that the LORD had provided this meat for them.]
So great is the plague there that Moses gives the place a special name—Graves of Craving (v. 34). From Kibroth Hattaavah, Israel embarks now for Hazeroth (v. 35).
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